Students who wish to be called by a different first name than what their birth certificate states, or identify as a different gender, will have the ability to have that reflected on their student records.
After no discussion at the Monday, Nov. 8, meeting, the Oregon School Board unanimously approved an updated policy that will allow a student and their parents to change their “official name” or gender on their school records such as the yearbook, their diplomas and their transcripts, even if it does not match their legal name or gender that is on their birth certificate or other legal documents.
The distinction of having an official name be separate from a legal name would allow students who are transgender or nonbinary who chose to identify by their chosen name to have that reflected on their student records, as well as students who chose to go by their middle name.
Any changes for a student who is under the age of 18 must also receive approval from a parent, the updated policy states. Students who are legally adults do not need parent permission to change their official name with the district, the policy states.
District counsel Jina Jonen told the board that a software update to the district’s Infinite Campus portal allowed for three spaces for names – one for the student’s legal name, which cannot be changed and must match what is on the student’s birth certificate or other legal documents. There are two other spaces, one for an official name that would be used as the main name for all of the student’s records and yearbook information, as well as a nickname section where a student could ask to be called something other than their legal name in class that wouldn’t be reflected on student records.
Jonen told the board that the decision to change the policy came at the request of parents whose children wanted to use their chosen name over their legal one.
“We know that for many of our students, when they change their name, it can be traumatic for them to see their legal name until they’re old enough, or want to go through that process to change it legally with a court,” she said. “Because under the law, we are not able to discriminate on the basis of transgender, that if Kyle wanted to be called Kim in class, Kyle would be called Kim, just like James could be called Jim.
“But this policy speaks to student records, so Kyle could not change to Kim in Infinite Campus without parent permission,” Jonen added.
The district could only change a student’s legal name upon receiving a copy of a court order instructing them to do so, the policy states. A student’s legal name must be kept in the district’s records for background checks, financial aid or Social Security, especially for when students have since graduated, Jonen said.
In previous versions of the policy, which were last updated in 2007, the district would only honor legal name changes that were authorized by a court order and would not recognize any informal changes to a students name, regardless of whether a student or parent requested it.
How transgender students are treated by school districts has been brought into the legal spotlight in the past few years. The state legislature has attempted to pass laws prohibiting transgender women from participating in female sports at both the high school and collegiate levels and a lawsuit against a neighboring school district has honed in how teachers refer to students who are transitioning.
Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sued Madison Metropolitan School District in June 2020 over its gender identity guidance, where administrators advised that teachers could call a student by their requested name in the classroom, and their official name parents or guardians.
The Milwaukee-based law firm has alleged that Madison Metropolitan’s administrative policy – which is not approved by its school board – is intentionally deceitful toward parents by not informing them of their child’s transition and is a violation of parental and religious freedom rights.
At the Nov. 8 board meeting, district resident Rob Palmer spoke during the public comment, alleging the district had lied about its best practices document being a working draft and that more than one high school teacher had sent out a survey on the first and second days of school asking students what their preferred pronouns are.
The best practices document Palmer referred to was not up for a vote, only the student records policy.
“I do not read anything in the policy to authorize teachers and staff from using one name and gender for the student at school, and a different name when communicating with parents or legal guardians,” Palmer said during the public comment period. “Do you believe the revised OSD policy permits teachers and staff to use one name in the classroom to include in attendance, yearbooks and rosters, and a different name when communicating with parents and legal guardians?”
District public information officer Erika Mundinger told the Observer in an email that a school-wide survey had not been sent out to high school students, but teachers or staff often use surveys to gather more information about students at the beginning of a semester.
“A student’s ‘nickname’ or ‘preferred’ name or pronoun is one that may be used in class,” Mundinger wrote. “Because our long-standing practice is to allow students to go by their ‘preferred’ name in class, the District similarly recognizes a student’s preferred pronoun in class.”